There is no shortage of arguments to challenge the groundless and deeply unfair claim that the USSR and the fascist Germany were equally responsible for the outbreak of World War II. Even a sketchy juxtaposition of Berlin’s and Moscow’s pre-war military plans highlights the fundamental difference in the two countries’ intentions.
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Hitler approved the Operation Barbarossa plan for a war against the USSR on December 18, 1940.The plan’s underlying concept was that of a snap offensive: Berlin hoped to defeat the Soviet Union in a relatively short period of time while continuing to fight against Great Britain. Within five months from the date of the initial attack, Germany was supposed to destroy the main forces of the Red Army concentrated in the proximity of Russia’s western frontier, to prevent the retreat of the Soviet divisions that would retain combat-readiness after coming under the first German strikes, and to advance into the territory of the USSR deep enough to make Soviet air raids against the German territory impossible. The end goal of the German campaign was to create a protective barrier against Russia, an Asian monster in the terms of Goebbels’s propaganda, along the Arkhangelsk – Volga line… The key targets designated by German military planners were Leningrad, Moscow, Russia’s Central Industrial Region, and the coal-rich Donbass. Airstrikes were supposed to paralyse Russia’s another key industrial zone in the Urals.
Preparations for the aggression were to be complete by May 15, 1941. As a result, Germany was urgently putting together a strike force for the offensive which by mid-1941 counted around 5 million soldiers, over 47,000 canons and mine launchers, around 4,400 tanks and mobile canons, and 4,400 aircrafts. On May 22, Germany’s transportation system switched to a rush schedule, the goal being to expedite the deployment of the forces for the east-bound attack. Some 300 trains headed daily for the regions adjacent to the Soviet border. Disguising the activity took a sophisticated campaign of deception, and Stalin who monopolized the process of assessing the risks which at the moment confronted the Soviet Union lost the disinformation game set in motion by the Nazi leaders.
Hitler wrote in his diary on May 30 that the transit in the framework of Operation Barbarossa went on as planned and reaffirmed the operation’s previously set launch date. He penned the plan for the final preparations for the aggression against the USSR on June 5, and on June 10 German army commander Walther von Brauchitsch ordered to start the operation at 3:30 a.m. on June 22, 1941. Codeword Dortmund was a signal upon receiving which at 1 p.m. on June 21 the German army was to abandon any disguise in the run-up to the attack.
On June 20, German headquarters received Hitler’s address regarding Operation Barbarossa in which he alleged that the offensive was a forced measure. Hitler lied that Russians were amassing forces at Germany’s eastern frontier, that just weeks ago Germany maintained no tank or motorized divisions in the region (which was of course untrue), and that the number of Russian divisions at the border routinely violated by the Soviets reached 160. Based on all of that, Hitler called for a strike against “the Jewish and Anglo-Saxon warmongers and the Jewish masters of the Bolshevist center in Moscow”. He was more open about what was happening though not any more honest at a meeting with his party colleagues in Munich in November, 1941: “In April-May, I followed the developments, ready to act 24 hours ahead of the enemy as soon as I realize that it is about to attack. The situation started to look threatening by mid-June, and in the second half of June there were no doubts left that it was a matter of weeks if not days. Then I ordered to attack on June 22. My old comrades, please believe me that it was the most difficult decision in my whole life as I knew that as a result we would be dragged into an extremely difficult fight, but I hoped that the more we outpace the enemy the greater our chances to win would be”.
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A survey of the prewar Soviet military planning reveals a stark contrast. Though the Soviet army grew in numbers considerably – from 1,9 million in 1939 to 4.9 million by June 1, 1941 – its combat-readiness was in fact declining. Russia’s new military leaders – defense commissar S.K. Timoshenko and chief of army staff G.K. Zhukov – were fully aware that the army was unprepared for the coming war and made serious efforts to reverse the trend, but the task proved uphill and serious mistakes were made in the process. For example, the Red Army’s war-time deployment plan was finalized obviously later than needed. The plan went through a series of at least three overhauls in 1940-1941. The first one was brought to life by the 300 km shift of the Soviet Union’s western and north-western defense lines in 1940, but profound miscalculations of strategic character were built into the new version at the time. Top vulnerability was ascribed to the south-western direction – that of an attack targeting Ukraine, while as history eventually showed Germany focused on the western direction via which it attacked Belarus. The wrong prediction remained in place when the plan was subjected to a revision in February-April, 1941.
Nevertheless, the plan must be credited with a realistic assessment of the overall situation. It stated that the Soviet Union had to be prepared to fight parallel wars in the West – against Germany backed by Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Finland – and in the east – against Japan. Importantly, scrutiny shows no indications that an attack against Germany was in any form on the Soviet strategic agenda.
The plan underwent a final shake-over in May-June, 1941. Its edited version titled Concept of the Soviet Union Forces’ Strategic Deployment in the Case of War With Germany was submitted to Stalin by Timoshenko and Zhukov on May 15, 1941. Better known as the Zhukov memorandum, it was examined at a secret meeting convened by Stalin on May 24, where the forecast that the key German attack would be directed towards Ukraine was reaffirmed. Stalin ordered to dispatch additional forces to the Kiev military district which thus accumulated around 50% of the divisions deployed in the proximity of the Soviet Union’s western frontier. Zhukov admitted later that the inaccuracy of the forecast had dire consequences for the early phase of the Soviet defense campaign.
The idea that by June 22, 1941 the Soviet Union was about to hit Germany and that Berlin acted in response to the imminent threat can, as mentioned above, be traced back to Hitler and Goebbels. Staking the claim, the fascist criminals simply denied being responsible for the aggression. Secret German documents do shed light on the actual picture. Hitler said confidently at a July, 1940 meeting with Germany’s top brass that Russians did not want a war. The August 5, 1940 draft of Generalplan Ost, the first document reflecting the intention to start a war against the USSR, said Russians would do Germany a favor by being the first to attack but Berlin should expect Russia’s ground forces to be in defense. On March 22, 1941, three months before the start of the aggression against the USSR, head of the German army staff Gen. Franz Halder left a note in his diary that he did not believe Russians would initiate a war.
On the eve of the war, on June 13, 1941, German military intelligence headed by Wilhelm Franz Canaris reported that, as before, Russians were expected to be in the defensive mode. The German rulers’ lie that their predatory war against the Soviet Union was preemptive was exposed at the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trial. The tribunal’s sentence based on documentary evidence and an array of testimonies including that by German field marshal F. Paulus stated that Germany’s attack against the USSR was an aggression with no shade of legal justification.
In other words, there seems to be utmost clarity concerning the situation, but over the recent years the version of history produced by Hitler and Goebbels that the Soviet leadership intended to attack Germany somehow began to recur. All of the above has been proven over and over: the Soviet government was trying to avoid the war at any cost or at least to win a maximal amount of time to implement an army reform that was to ready the country for facing the aggression. It is in fact surprising that these days Russia’s opponents invoke so daringly the vile myths floated by Hitler and Goebbels.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation